Millennials and Health: Seven Trends

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Members of the Millennial generation, born between 1979 and 1998, are 16–35 years of age in 2014. Like every generation before them, Millennials have been shaped by the parenting style of the generation that raised them (the boomers) and by a unique set of life experiences. As they head off to college, enter the workforce, and start families, Millennials are poised to bring their desires, values, and style to every aspect of society.

Millennials are doubtful about both the state of their own health and the quality of the care they receive. According to a 2011 report from healthcare technology company TeleVox, 42% of Millennial Americans “do not feel their overall personal health is in good shape.”

A 2010 Life University study found, “Millennials (age 15– 27) are overly optimistic about their own health, despite admitting to the same unhealthy habits that have caused chronic illness in previous generations.” Meanwhile, they are more skeptical of the healthcare they receive than are Americans overall: in a 2012 American Psychological Association and Harris Interactive survey, 25% of Millennial respondents (age 18–33) graded their healthcare an “A,” compared to 31% of respondents overall.

BACKGROUND: MILLENNIAL BEHAVIORS AND ATTITUDES

Each generation is shaped by a unique set of life experiences. Millennials have been influenced by school shooting tragedies during their childhood; have been carefully protected by their parents; have grown up with digital technology (i.e., are “digital natives”); are collaborative and tolerant; were raised “green;” and expect “high quality and experiences with ease of access.”

They are comfortable with digital—as opposed to face-to-face—interactions. Millennials have also been impacted by difficult economic times during their college or early career years. As of February 2013, US Millennial unemployment stood at 13.1%, compared to the 7.8% national average.

KEY FINDINGS

  • The Millennial Generation (age 16–35 in 2014) have a unique, complex, and sometimes contradictory approach to health and healthcare that will demand new perspectives and practices from healthcare providers, as well as from employers.
  • Millennials are skeptical of the quality of their healthcare and frustrated by inconveniences it imposes on them.
  • Millennials want a well- designed healthcare experience. They will pursue a highly informed, take-charge approach to their care.
  • Some Millennials struggle to afford healthcare and health insurance.
  • Stress and obesity are key health problems facing Millennials.
  • Millennials believe the healthcare system should address societal and behavioral issues.
  • Millennials embrace technology as a means to improve healthcare.

TREND 1: MILLENNIALS WILL GATHER INPUT AND TAKE CHARGE OF THEIR HEALTH. Millennials will seek input on healthcare options from their social network and will want a voice in choosing treatment options.

TREND 2. MILLENNIALS SEEK A WELL-DESIGNED HEALTHCARE EXPERIENCE. In a 2010 presentation, Parkinson argued that Millennials want health and happiness more than any other generation and that they will lead a revolution in healthcare—“cleaning up” a system full of flaws left by the shortsightedness of earlier generations.

TREND 3. MILLENNIALS WANT SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE HEALTHCARE. Millennials tend to see health and healthcare in a broader societal context. Parkinson argues that the healthcare system needs to reach beyond “pills and scalpels” to address social and behavioral problems, including unhealthy lifestyles. At the same time, he maintains, healthcare consumers need to take responsibility for their own actions. And socially conscious Millennials will look for ways to include others in the healthcare system, e.g., through Medi-Share, a “healthcare sharing program where Christians share financial resources to pay each other’s medical expenses.”

TREND 4. MILLENNIALS STRUGGLE TO AFFORD HEALTHCARE. Millennials see the need for health insurance but are more often uninsured than older adults, in part because they may not have employment that offers a health insurance benefit. US Millennials are skeptical that healthcare reform will improve their care or reduce their costs.

TREND 5. STRESS IS A MAJOR HEALTH ISSUE FOR MILLENNIALS. According to Allison Hart of healthcare technology provider TeleVox, “Stress and obesity are the two biggest health problems plaguing Generation Y.”

TREND 6. MILLENNIALS ARE CONFLICTED ABOUT HEALTHY EATING. Along with stress, obesity is the other major health issue afflicting Millennials. Like many US consumers, Millennials have a complex, sometimes conflicted relationship with food. They are very interested in healthy food choices, but also inclined to indulge. The Center for Culinary Development says of Millennials, “They’re health conscious, yet prone to fits of decadent eating.”

TREND 7. MILLENNIALS EMBRACE HEALTHCARE TECHNOLOGY. Millennials are optimistic about the contributions technology can make to healthier living, but aware of the risks to society of too much reliance on information technology.